Recent geopolitical and geoeconomic shifts, rapid technological change and the changing climate each increase the likelihood of crises with far reaching consequences happening more frequently in coming decades. The UK government has already launched the British Energy Security Strategy, National Cyber Strategy, and Net Zero Strategy to address these (and other) specific risks, but it has also identified a need to strengthen the underpinning systems providing resilience to all risks.
The UK Government Resilience Framework (UKGRF), published December 2022, presents a package of measures to build resilience across six thematic areas: risk; responsibility and accountability; partnership; community; investment; and skills. This package of measures is underpinned by three fundamental principles:
- That we need a developed and shared understanding of the risks we face;
- That we must focus more on prevention and preparation; and
- That resilience requires transparency and empowerment to facilitate a ‘whole of society’ approach.
Considering this last point, the UKGRF has implications for a wide range of actors, from central and local government through to the private, voluntary and community sectors.
At the national level, the government has substantially reviewed the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA). Firstly, it will be extended to look over a longer timescale, up to five years for some risks. Secondly, risks with significantly different planning and/or responses in their different manifestations will now be represented by multiple scenarios in the NSRA.
To foster a ‘whole of society’ resilience approach, the government will work towards greater sharing of risk assessment information with partners throughout the resilience system as their default position. Whilst remaining conscious of national security, this will include sharing much more information from the NSRA with the National Risk Register (NRR) - the publicly available counterpart of the NSRA.
Public awareness is also central to the ‘whole of society’ approach, so by 2025 the UK Government will conduct an annual survey of public perceptions of risk, resilience and preparedness. It will accompany this with an Annual Statement to Parliament on civil contingencies risks and UK performance on resilience.
At the local level, to enhance the attentiveness of resilience decision making to vulnerable groups and address inequalities, the government and Local Resilience Forums (LRF) will jointly develop a measurement of socio-economic resilience and vulnerability to key civil contingencies risks. This tool will provide a snapshot of the key characteristics of local areas, and Community Risk Registers (CRR) will then have stronger requirements placed upon them to consider community demographics, particularly vulnerable groups. Each London borough maintains its own CRR, so this will mean each area considering their local vulnerability picture, rather than one pan-London consideration. The tool will also be used to create targeted communications strategies.
To deliver longer term capability building, a new ‘Head of Resilience’ will be created to complement the newly formed ‘Resilience Directorate’ in the Cabinet Office. This Directorate will: drive implementation of the measures set out in the UKGRF; develop the UK’s ongoing resilience programme; and clearly communicate responsibility for risk ownership to actors at all levels. The National Security Council will also gain a new resilience-focused sub-committee.
Local Resilience Forums (LRF): The government has committed to significantly strengthen LRFs, beginning with piloting changes to the nature of the LRF Chair role. In London, the ‘London Resilience Forum’ is the statutory LRF. Changes will include considering a full-time permanent role occupied by an appropriately qualified and experienced individual, who will become the ‘Chief Resilience Officer’ (CRO) for each LRF area. Importantly, CROs will be accountable to executive local democratic leaders, and the government will develop clear mechanisms and expectations for this accountability. The government have indicated that they will work with CROs to ensure LRFs are properly resourced; they have promised by 2030 to consider options for LRF funding models to account for future expanded responsibilities. Pilots are underway, with DLUHC in late 2021 agreeing a £22m three-year funding settlement for LRFs in England starting in the 2022/23 financial year.
Government guidance and support will be provided to LRFs to improve their engagement with communities and community groups on both acute and chronic risks, so that they become increasingly active partners in building local resilience. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, for example, has committed to funding the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCSEP) in England with up to £1.5m, to 2025. London has recently established the London Communities Emergencies Partnership, which brings together and supports organisations across the voluntary and community sector to facilitate more effective responses to emergencies. The government will also pilot a new Emergency Alert system, alongside creating new community- and household-focused guidance about investing in resilience and preparedness.
Businesses are recognised in the Framework as an essential partner in resilience, and the government admits it must do more to encourage active partnerships with the private sector. It commits to learning from the sector more actively, sharing guidance and information through regular consultation. In particular, the government will focus on engaging owners and operators of the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure, as the vulnerability of these systems is complex.
The Framework sets out plans for a new UK Resilience Academy (UKRA) to be built up and out of the Cabinet Office’s Emergency Planning College (EPC). The UKRA will be a physical and virtual campus delivering the scoping, design and delivery of training, wider education, learning and development, and exercising for resilience professionals.
The government similarly pledges to reinvigorate the National Exercising Programme (NEP) to bring together key partners to stress test contingency plans, structures and skills, and embed lessons captured into standards. The NEP will now focus on: civil contingency emergencies caused by natural events (e.g. flooding); those caused by accidents (e.g. plane crash); and those caused and impacted by malign state activity.
The UK Government Resilience Framework (UKGRF) has the potential to significantly strengthen the UK’s resilience systems.
Local level: The Framework makes a number of promises to strengthen LRFs, such as the London Resilience Forum. This support is certainly important, given local authorities possess a wealth of local level resilience knowledge and expertise. However, boroughs will be expecting much more detail about what government plans to support local resilience efforts through LRFs will look like in the Capital.
Boroughs should note that plans to increase LRF funding and strengthen democratic accountability are likely to be aimed at the London Resilience Forum, not individual borough resilience forums (BRF). As such, these changes will be channelled through the Mayor and London Assembly, not London Leaders. London local authorities may be concerned that the Framework does not mention London’s unique resilience arrangements, or whether the government is considering any measures to support BRFs.
Boroughs will also be looking for a more concrete articulation of how the government plans to engage communities in a ‘whole of society’ resilience approach. Boroughs have already expressed concern that the government has given little indication of how wide-scale community engagement will be achieved in the numbers that a national emergency would likely demand (i.e. multiple thousands if not millions). Promises of government support and guidance for LRFs on how to make communities and community groups ‘increasingly active partners’ in resilience should be fleshed out considerably.
There is no reference in the Framework to building resilience into the school curriculum or other such initiatives.
National level: The Head of Resilience and National Resilience Directorate may provide new sources of guidance and information regarding risk ownership and Framework measure implementation. Boroughs may be inclined to monitor the level of additional risk information actually being shared with partners by the government – and particularly the community – to ensure Framework commitments to greater transparency are being fulfilled.
Whether or not the new public perception survey on resilience will have direct implications for boroughs will depend on the types of questions asked, and whether published survey findings are broken down by local authority area. If the latter is the case, findings may be taken by the government – or the general public – to reflect borough performance around resilience.
The promised joint development of a measurement of socio-economic resilience and vulnerability to key civil contingencies risks, which will be complemented by collection of demographic data, presents a considerable opportunity for councils to bring a renewed emphasis on tackling inequalities into their resilience efforts.
The UK Government Resilience Framework